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Steven Squyres: The Mars Exploration Rover Mission



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Race to Mars

NASA's newest Mars rover is scheduled for launch Saturday; Curiosity should arrive at the Red Planet's mineral-rich Gale Crater next August, after a 354-million-mile, 8.5-month voyage aboard an Atlas V rocket. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency has received the first signal from an unmanned Russian spacecraft bound for a moon of Mars since it was stuck in Earth's orbit two weeks ago, officials said Wednesday -- raising hope that mission might be saved.
ESA spokesman Bernhard von Weyhe said contact with Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe could be the first step in restabilising the mission. If successful, Phobos-Grunt could leave Earth's orbit at more or less the same time as its American counterpart.

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Mars Sliding Behind Sun After Rover Anniversary

The team operating NASA's Mars rover Opportunity will temporarily suspend commanding for 16 days after the rover's seventh anniversary next week, but the rover will stay busy.
For the fourth time since Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, Pacific Time), the planets' orbits will put Mars almost directly behind the sun from Earth's perspective.
During the days surrounding such an alignment, called a solar conjunction, the sun can disrupt radio transmissions between Earth and Mars. To avoid the chance of a command being corrupted by the sun and harming a spacecraft, NASA temporarily refrains from sending commands from Earth to Mars spacecraft in orbit and on the surface. This year, the commanding moratorium will be Jan. 27 to Feb. 11 for Opportunity, with similar periods for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey orbiter.
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NASA's Mars Rovers Set Longevity Record On The Red Planet

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project will pass a historic Martian longevity record on Thursday, May 20. The Opportunity rover will surpass the duration record set by NASA's Viking 1 Lander of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of Mars. The effects of favourable weather on the red planet could also help the rovers generate more power.
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In one of the most remarkable engineering feats of our time, the aging Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still taking orders and sending home pictures more than five years after they were supposed to turn into slabs of space junk.
Opportunity is still rolling along, but Spirit is hung up on a rock and may be reaching the end of its travels. The rovers' masters at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hope they can nurse either or both of them through another harsh Martian winter.

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The latest real-life stars of the Robot Hall of Fame include a couple of contraptions that have surpassed sci-fi expectations: NASA's twin Mars rovers.

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Heading into a period of the Martian year prone to major dust storms, the team operating NASA's twin Mars rovers is taking advantage of eye-in-the-sky weather reports.
On April 21, Mars will be at the closest point to the sun in the planet's 23-month, elliptical orbit. One month later, the planet's equinox will mark the start of summer in Mars' southern hemisphere. This atmospheric-warming combination makes the coming weeks the most likely time of the Martian year for dust storms severe enough to minimize activities of the rovers.

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Mars Rovers' Five-Year Anniversary
Public events during the next two weeks will share the adventures of the still-active NASA Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed five years ago this month on missions originally scheduled to last three months.
Rover mission leaders will present free, illustrated talks Thursday, Jan. 15, and Friday, Jan. 16, in Pasadena, with the Jan. 15 event streamed live online and archived for later viewing.
On Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 25, rover team members will give a series of talks at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The observatory will also display a full-size Mars rover model, with team members available to answer visitors' questions.

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The US space agency's (Nasa) Mars rovers are celebrating a remarkable five years on the Red Planet.
The first robot, named Spirit, landed on 3 January, 2004, followed by its twin, Opportunity, 21 days later.
It was hoped the robots would work for at least three months; but their longevity in the freezing Martian conditions has surprised everyone.
The rovers' data has revealed much about the history of water at Mars' equator billions of years ago.

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